Report: Hawks targeting Stan Van Gundy as possible head coach, and yes, there’s a Dwight Howard connection

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The Atlanta Hawks finished another underwhelming season under head coach Larry Drew, and while Drew is still under contract with the team through the end of June, it’s more than likely that the team will go in another direction next season.

In addition to the coaching spot, the Hawks are going to need to rebuild a little bit from a personnel standpoint, considering that Josh Smith is an unrestricted free agent, and is likely to sign elsewhere in the offseason.

Combine both of those situations, and you get to where Atlanta is now: in pursuit of a big name, experienced head coach, who may in turn help to lure a big name, superstar free agent.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

The Atlanta Hawks are aggressively pursuing Stan Van Gundy for the franchise’s head-coaching job, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

General manager Danny Ferry has made Van Gundy his top target to replace Larry Drew, sources said.

There has been contact between Ferry and Van Gundy, but the two sides have yet to meet in person.

The Hawks plan to make a hard push for free-agent center Dwight Howard on July 1, and there’s some belief that Van Gundy could turn out to be a benefit in recruiting Howard back to his hometown.

Howard has expressed some sentiment that he better appreciates Van Gundy as a head coach, despite their clashes together in Orlando that ultimately led to the coach’s firing after the 2011-12 season.

Van Gundy has an excellent reputation in coaching circles, and the job he did in Orlando — including how he was brutally honest in handling the Dwight Howard nonsense in his final season there — is well-respected throughout the league. While he hasn’t decided whether or not he wishes to return to coaching next season, there will be no shortage of opportunities for him if he’s ready to come back.

As for Howard, go ahead and consider this the first of what will assuredly be many rumors about what his ultimate destiny might be at the end of free agency. Howard said that his first season in Los Angeles with the Lakers was like a nightmare immediately following its conclusion, though he was much healthier in the second half of the year, and despite a multitude of injuries, he helped L.A. to a 28-12 finish to the regular season that landed the team in the playoffs.

The Lakers remain the favorite to sign Howard, partially because they can offer him one more year and $30 million more in guaranteed money than any other team can under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. That, along with being handed the keys to the storied L.A. franchise once Kobe Bryant retires may make the opportunity there too great for Howard to pass up.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.